I was summoned by one of the king’s messengers late in the afternoon. I was needed for emergency maintenance.
Rhythmically, I told my wife and son to start dinner without me. My wife gave me that look in her eye where she made sure you knew she wasn’t happy with you. Work often called me away from the dinner table.
“There’s some sort of emergency maintenance they need me for downtown,” I told them. “I’ll be back soon. I promise.”
Coming out of the front door, I noticed there was a steady breeze in the air. Downed leaves were whipping all around and the crows on the clotheslines could barely hold footing in the swaying wind. After getting our horse, Mary Beth, out of the barn, we began trotting toward the city. There were children playing with a ball along a cobblestone street corner and they were struggling in the wind to keep the ball under control as well as the hats on their heads. The wind was unbearably strong.
Finally I came along a commotion in the streets. I pulled off the side of the road, making sure Mary Beth’s hooves didn’t get caught up in the loose cobblestone street bricks, and tied her off on a post. Looking toward the swarm of people, I knew that it would take a lot of fighting to make it through the pressing crowds. I looked up at the street signs on the corner.
“First and Abbey,” I said to myself, “this is where the king’s messenger said it happened.” I began to plow my way through the tightly woven mess of arms and legs.
“Street maintenance,” I said, hoping to get just an inch farther at a time. When I finally made it to the front, I noticed that there was a blockade set up by the city police. A man put his hand up to me rather abruptly when I made an attempt to hoist my leg over the wooden road block.
“Sorry, sir. This street’s closed,” he said to me.
“I’m street maintenance,” I responded in a rather hesitant voice, not wanting to upset the officer.
“Do you have identification?” he asked. I pulled out my royal certificate from my inside work coat pocket and showed it to the man in the black suit and tall, rounded helmet. He nodded and, in one quick motion, slid open the barricade, grabbed my arm, and whisked me through to the other side, quickly closing off the path of entry after I had made it through.
“The chief is expecting you. He’s down that-away,” he said, pointing down to another commotion in the street, this one of police officers and royal advisers on horseback. Once I got closer, the king’s men began trotting past me, away from the second commotion. Their heads were hung in shame and their faces had a combination of disgust and defeat inscribed under their eyes.
A man looked up as he saw me approaching.
“Are you the street cleaner?” he asked.
“I am, sir,” I answered. “What can I do for you today?”
“We need you to do some cleaning,” he began. “Follow me this way. But,” he said haltingly with a sense of urgency, “be warned, this isn’t a pretty sight.”
I proceeded with a sense of confusion. We made our way down the sidewalk, to where the giant wall that separates the royal market comes nearest to the street. The police chief took me to where a blanket was covering something on the sidewalk. When he lifted it, I became nauseous. There were yellow guts everywhere and cracked pieces of what I could only figure was bone all around it. Above all there was a rotten stench.
“Cover it,” I screamed. “I can’t bear it.”
“Come to your senses, man,” the policeman said. “You must clean it up as we have given up all hope.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Those riders who passed you were all the king’s horses and all the king’s men.”
He paused, sighed, and looked down to the street with heavy eyes. “And they couldn’t put Humpty-Dumpty back together again.”
“My God,” I gasped.
“He was watching over the market from atop the wall,” the chief explained. “But the wind was just too strong and his bottom was too rounded. Poor bugger had quite a fall and then … splat.”
“How will you have me do it?” I asked with fear and disgust.
“Take this broom and sweep the remains into this pan,” he said, handing me a rounded pan with no lip.
“But sir,” I said. “This is a frying pan.”
Just then, a third man came to the scene in a white jacket and a tall white hat and distracted me from my previous question.
“You called, sir?” asked the man.
“Yes,” replied the chief. “Our cleaning man is just gathering now. I would like them done scrambled and slightly dark.”
My mouth was gaping and my eyes grew wide upon the chief’s last comment. I was looking at the chief with a shocked, disturbed expression. He then looked back with a mix of guilt and defense.
“What?” he asked. “Why waste it?”